Great performance of the production of Hector Berlioz’s “The Damnation of Faust” by the English National Opera (ENO) at the London Coliseum this evening.
“Our production follows the trajectory of German art and history from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century” says the programme.
Berlioz called his piece it a “dramatic legend” rather than an opera and it’s hard to imagine that a traditional production would be satisfactory. Therefore a production directed byTerry Gilliam, the “Mischievous showman” of Monty Python fame, has given us on stage Berlioz’s interpretation of Goethe’s classic poem.
Terry Gilliam’s fame is from television or film and there’s a strong case that this production would look even better as a made for television production or even as a movie. His interpretation has been fairly loose and some tidying up of Berlioz’s score might be a good thing, ie cutting.
There are plenty of design trademarks, for example Mephistopheles’ wraiths wear bowler hats as they dance and some unification of the design in the colours - the devil’s colours are red and black which ties in nicely with the Nazi swastika logo. There's also some deep stuff like using the origins of “The Ballad of the King of Thule” as justification for the inclusion of the Third Reich story.
The big dance numbers stop just short of Mel Brook’s “Springtime for Hitler” for comic or shock value - the Opera Comique in Paris was the only venue Berlioz could afford for the first performances but I hadn’t previously considered this a comic opera.
Brighton Pavilion Music Room - the fantasy room beneath one of the domes of Brighton's Regency Palace: Rossini performed here in 1823. I’ve longed to hear real music in the room there and finally managed to get tickets on a day that I could travel there. It was rush to get the train after work, not to mention the nightmare ticketing an “open jaw” train itinerary without paying way over the odds. And Brighton’s more set up for a relaxed evening meal rather than a pre-concert snack. In particular one wants to avoid canned music blunting one’s musical sensitivities.
The music was excellent; in one way the programme or the artistes wouldn’t have mattered: the “erotic” ambience of the Prince Regent’s party get-away palace would lift any performance. The warm, intimate and clear acoustic of the music room filled with 500 audience was reminiscent of a superior drawing room; it seemed it was a joy for the performers to work it. The promised recital of Beethoven lieder and Schumann duets was high class entertainment before the age of cinema and TV: the poet’s words evoking mountains and light, forests and evening, love and lovers.
The applause was surprisingly muted at the end of this evening’s concluding concert in Valery Gergiev’s series of Mahler Symphonies. Two calls plus a third, rather half-hearted. That probably signifies that I wasn’t the only listener at London’s Barbican Hall who felt tonight’s performances were good but not great.
Amsterdam concert goers enjoy the warm acoustic of the Concertgebouw, a hall where music has been performed since 1888. There are two halls, the large hall, seating just 2200, is shaped like a shoe box with a flat floor and small galleries at the sides and back, so quite unlike the fan shape of more recent concert halls.
You might think the acoustics would be dreadful but quite the opposite: at this evening's concert, we could hear clearly and separately the four voices of the Hilliard Ensemble and had plenty of volume from the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. Both benefited from the generous and forgiving reverberant acoustic from the numerous arches and curved surfaces which make up the attractive decoration. Amsterdam’s trams run close by two sides of the building on major roads but are inaudible.
"Nikolić meets Hilliard" was an interesting programme idea, contrasting almost mystical twentieth century music inspired by the liturgy of the Russian Orthodox Church with three motets from the twelfth century by Guillaume de Mauchaut and book ending more familiar pieces of Beethoven and Mozart.
Rossini’s opera Il barbiere di siviglia is one of those operas which gives opera its reputation. Unbelievable plot that I can never remember in detail, anachronistic yet hugely credible characters and in this production, camp production and costumes supporting fantastic singing and orchestra amid the lovely acoustic of the Royal Opera House. All contributing to nearly three hours of sophisticated escapism where music, stagecraft and lighting combine to make performance magic.